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From this summer, all women and girls being cared for by the NHS will be given, on request, appropriate sanitary products free of charge.
Many already provide them but this will be mandated in the new standard contract with hospitals for 2019-20.
The announcement by NHS England and supported by the BMA, was welcomed by charity Freedom4Girls, which campaigns against period poverty.
Simon Stevens, chief executive for NHS England, said: “It is absolutely right that everyone has access to the essentials of daily life during their time in hospital, and that should include sanitary products.
“It’s fundamental that we give patients the best experience possible during what can be a stressful time of their life, and by providing sanitary products the NHS can prevent unnecessary embarrassment and leave people to focus on their recovery.”
Chair of the BMA’s Board of Science, Dame Parveen Kumar, said: “The BMA is delighted that NHS England has supported our call for sanitary products to be made freely available for patients, across England from July this year.
“Since being raised as a concern by doctors in June last year, the BMA has undertaken extensive research into the poor provision of sanitary products in hospitals, including Freedom of Information requests to all English hospital Trusts. This showed how patchy or non-existent the provision was and also the relatively small cost of providing tampons and pads free of charge. We are pleased that our work, since then, with NHS England has culminated in such a successful result for women, bringing an end to indignity on top of ill-health.
“In taking this step, the NHS has shown that it can lead by example. As well being an important influence in the shift that is necessary towards ending period poverty, this will be a relief for many patients who will no longer face the embarrassment and stress of not being able to freely and easily access sanitary pads and tampons.”
Freedom4Girls founder Tina Leslie, said: “This is a great initiative and is a fantastic step forward. NHS England have stepped up to the mark and been proactive in ensuring that hospital patients get tampons and sanitary towels.
“It is also breaking down barriers and reducing the stigma around periods. When women go into hospital it can be a worry to know what to do if you start your period, but now that worry is taken away as they know they will be catered for.”
The new requirement will mean women and girls receiving treatment in hospitals and other health settings will be able to request pads, pantyliners and tampons when they need them.
As well as offering reassurance to anyone needing urgent care unexpectedly, the move also will help those who are in hospital long term, including mental health inpatients.
Ruth May, England’s Chief Nurse, added: “Periods are part of life and too often we take it for granted that everyone has easy access to sanitary products.
“Period poverty affects an estimated one in 10 girls in this country and it can cause real anxiety when you can’t find the right product when you need it.
“Health problems are stressful enough, and this move will mean that the embarrassment, discomfort and anxiety finding yourself in hospital without adequate protection on your period will be a thing of the past.”
A recent survey showed that at least one in four women and girls has had to miss work or school due to not being able to afford sanitary products.